Korn Ferry status brings journeyman Mark Baldwin home at the perfect time

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Korn Ferry status brings journeyman Mark Baldwin home at the perfect time

Korn Ferry

Korn Ferry status brings journeyman Mark Baldwin home at the perfect time

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WINTER GARDEN, Fla. – Timing is everything when starting a family. Mark Baldwin can’t believe how well things have worked out in this department.

In March, Baldwin, 36, and his wife Sarah will welcome their first child, a son. By the time he becomes a father, Baldwin will be immersed in his second full season on the Korn Ferry Tour, having earned eight guaranteed starts at the final stage of Q-School on Dec. 15 with his T-13 finish.

In effect, Baldwin is coming home.

For 13 years, Baldwin’s professional golf career has been a story of chasing starts around the globe. He’s a fascinating study in where golf can take you, if you let it.

As luck would have it, his first professional win came not long after his graduation from Notre Dame – where he was a three-time Big East All-Conference Player and team captain his senior year – and in his home state of New Hampshire, no less. That state open title was an initial encouraging launching point for far-flung places.

“Beginner’s luck, if you will,” Baldwin said.

Before long, the “state open” tour gave way to something much bigger. Armed with a working knowledge of Mandarin (a last-minute decision made when he found himself in need of foreign language credits near the end of his college career), Baldwin set off for Asian Tour Q-School. His story ultimately began on the Korean Tour – learning to travel, soaking up a rich culture and delicious food and rejoicing in cheap rent in Kuala Lumpur, where he made up the difference with daily use of a mop and bucket during monsoon season.

“If I’m being honest, in those early years of playing pro golf I really didn’t know just how good I could be at golf, but I did know that I could see a lot of the world and learn a great deal,” Baldwin said.

“Hey, I’m alive.”

Baldwin’s experiences traveling around the world have made this profession richer. His desire to travel was met, and now the timing of Korn Ferry Tour status couldn’t be better. The travel always came with uncertainty, and it’s not a viable option for a new father.

A blog site that has evolved into a way to document his experiences began as a way just to let family and friends know he was still alive on the other side of the world. Baldwin carried no phone during his first foray in Asia beginning in 2007 and had to scour each tournament stop for an “internet café” with an ethernet hook-up.

His blog also contains a meticulous timeline of his travels and successes. The variety is astounding. Baldwin has played – and won – everywhere from the Moonlight Tour (twice) to the Dakotas Tour. He has held membership on the Canadian Tour (2010-11), Challenge Tour (2015), One Asia Tour (2016) and, eventually, the Korn Ferry Tour (2018).

The travel brought many blessings, not the least of which was the volunteer at a 2010 Canadian Tour event who would eventually become his wife. Sarah’s grandmother spotted Mark first because she liked his swing and urged her granddaughter to talk to him.

Sarah and Mark Baldwin. (Photo submitted)

It was easy to make the connection, given that Tour players often interact with volunteers placed with their group for the day, as Sarah was. Mark invited Sarah to visit him during a tournament in Florida a few months later, and a long-distance relationship commenced.

Sarah, an Alberta, Canada native who works as a freelance makeup artist, has traveled with him frequently since, and was along most memorably for Mark’s second stint in Asia.

“I wanted to always travel but until I met him, I didn’t really go anywhere,” Sarah said of their adventurous start. “…It was crazy when we first went to China together because it was my first big international flight.”

International travel can test a young relationship, but the Baldwins made it through everything, from cold and miserable playing conditions to meals made of ingredients neither could name.

“She caddied every single tournament while we were over there,” Mark said. “She has seen more golf swings and has more professional competitive golf experiences than a lot of professional golfers.”

The two were married in 2017, and Mark calls his wife “the best thing golf has ever brought me.”

The Baldwins during their travels. (Photo submitted)

“He just never gives up.”

Sarah already sees what kind of role model Mark will be as a father because he’s a man who never gives up. Despite losing status on this tour and that one, running out of funds, finding side gigs to pay the bills and having to generally reinvent himself many times, Mark has always found a way forward.

The closest he came to a career change was when two seasons of relative stability on the Mackenzie Tour in Canada ended. It’s what prompted a short hiatus filled with freelance work, and eventually the second trip to Asia.

“I’ve always really wanted it,” he said. “I didn’t stop playing because I didn’t want it or think I could improve further. It was more a matter of the resources it takes.”

Throughout his career, Baldwin’s Notre Dame teammate Eric Deutsch, who works as a CPA for the family business has picked up his friend’s bag, when work allows. He has been a constant for encouragement, too, and helped his friend get through the most recent version of Korn Ferry Q-School.

Three years ago, Deutsch was on business in Shenzhen, China while his friend was grinding on the China Tour. Things were not going particularly well on the golf course, but you’d have never known it when the two met up.

“Golf is going bad, he’s getting married soon, he could have been depressed but he’s not,” Deutsch remembered. “That’s what I think of Mark – always upbeat, always making everyone else feel good.”

Their partnership is successful because of its roots in a long friendship. Deutsch jokes that other caddies cringe at some of the things he’ll say to Baldwin in the moment.

“I make him laugh in times that most caddies wouldn’t dare say something to their guy, but he needs to hear,” Deutsch said.

A calculated decision

Before entering Korn Ferry Q-School this fall, Baldwin had wrestled with his 2020 blueprint.

“I felt like the way my game was progressing, some of the courses in Europe – and I’ve tried over there before – might be a good option,” he said.

Friends encouraged him to remain stateside, and soon after, he and Sarah found out they’d become parents in 2020.

Baldwin has fared well in Europe because of the variety of courses and the demand for creativity. Korn Ferry setups, meanwhile, can just be about making birdies.

“I think I’ve shown, especially as time has gone on, that I can shoot the low scores too,” Baldwin said. “I was thinking about the journey to getting here and I don’t think progress is linear exactly, so having lost status and having spent the whole year trying to find something in Monday qualifiers, which is a birdie fest, that improved the aspect of the game where you have to be aggressive.”

What does success look like from here? Family plays a key role and so does stability and improvement.

“One big thing I hope to build on that came out of this year is working on things outside of golf,” Baldwin said.

Like fatherhood.

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